The current spread of the COVID-19 virus has been accompanied by the repeated advice that the best thing we can all do to prevent it is to keep washing our hands, and when this is not possible, to carry and use hand sanitiser.
Although, most alcohol-based hand sanitisers sold on the market claim to kill up to 99.9% of germs, this is not actually completely true. According to Dr Oz, a leading Harvard educated cardiologist in the US, whom I follow on Facebook, the germs these sanitisers kill are only certain types, but definitely not all. Worth noting is that compared to soap, hand sanitisers are less effective. If you have any doubts then perhaps you should consider this: what do surgeons use to wash their hands and arms just before surgery? Soap, in a bar.
Soap vs sanitiser vs liquid soap
According to virologists, hand sanitisers are able to kill germs, but they do not remove them in the same way that soap does.
I am yet to find an answer as to whether liquid soap (of the kind sold to the general public at the supermarket) are as effective or concentrated as the good old bars of soap. This is why we have switched to bars of soap at home for the time being. Every little bit helps, they say.
However, we don’t always have access to water and soap to scrub down. When you’re out and about you are going to need an alternative, which is where hand sanitisers come in. If you find them!
There have been reports of stocks flying off the shelves in many locations, and hand sanitisers (not just masks) have been as difficult to get hold of as a needle in a haystack. So, what can you do? Sometimes you just need to ask the question for the universe to reply. I came across the correct way to make an effective home made sanitiser.
A warning on home made hand sanitisers
Beware, that the first recipes I found circulating online with essential oils did not have a sufficient concentration of alcohol to be effective. ( I saw one which was 20ml alcohol to 60ml aloe vera plus other ingredients – shockingly low and useless against COVID-19).
Since most of the recipes did not come from sources I trusted I diligently sought more information. I found that according to Miryam Wahram, a biology professor at William Paterson University in the US, and author of a book about how to survive in a germ-filled world the single most effective thing is simply alcohol. This can be either isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or ethyl alcohol (apparently used in making drinks). The single most important factor is that this alcohol must be a minimum concentration of 60%. This will be indicated on the label. This is the active ingredient in any effective hand sanitiser. All you ned to do with the pure alcohol is rub it into your hands and allow it to air dry.
Because it is not easy to carry around, and also alcohol is harsh on the skin, it is not recommended you use more concentrated ones (I have a bottle of 70% and another of 96% alcohol at home, for instance). The easiest way to get round the problem of dry skin is to use moisturiser straight after the alcohol has evaporated.
Or you can add aloe vera and or glycerin gel. But again remember that for the sanitiser to be effective the concentration of the alcohol must be at least 60%.
The easiest recipe is 2/3rd of a cup of alcohol (99.9%) + 1/3rd of a cup of aloe vera gel+ 10 drops of essential oils (see below for more on essential oils).
How to make sure the concentration is sufficiently strong
Not content with the above, I looked into this some more and I found the scientific formula. I am not one for maths, we come from two different universes, but this is not a time to be superficial about these things. There is more than perfectionism at stake here. So, here is the chemical formula to work out exactly how to achieve the correct concentration (percent by volume).
The percent by volume formula
Percent by volume (v/v) is the volume of solute (in our case the alcohol) divided by the total volume of the solution (the total amount of sanitiser), multiplied by 100 %.
For a concentration of alcohol of 70% you need to divide the volume of the alcohol used by the total amount of the solution you are trying to prepare and multiply this by 100(%). So to prepare 250ml of hand sanitiser with a concentration of alcohol of 70% you will need to use the following formula:
Volume of alcohol = volume of the solution x 70/100
In other words 250ml x 70/100 = 175ml
You will therefore need 175ml of 99.9% grade alcohol to make up 250ml of sanitiser with an alcohol concentration of 70%.
In other words, for those less versed in the mathematics of it, to make your sanitiser you would add enough aloe vera, glycerine and or essential oils to at least 175 mL of rubbing alcohol (using 99% concentrated alcohol) to make a total of 250 mL of sanitiser.
Why Vodka won’t work
Most vodka you will find in your home is likely to be 80 proof vodka which is only 40% ethanol (alcohol) and is not concentrated enough to kill viruses. Experts such as biology professors across several American Universities suggest 180 proof spirits, which have 90% ethanol. These are acceptable for replacing the alcohol when you can’t find the latter.
Adding essential oils
One reason you might want to add one or more essential oils is to cover the smell of alcohol or vodka, if that is what you are using. Remember though that you will add no more than a few drops of each essential oil. There are between 200 to 250 drops in every 10ml bottle of essential oil. So you can estimate that you will use no more than 5 to 10 drops in total, under 0.05ml if my maths is correct of the total volume of sanitiser. Greater concentrations are not needed to add scent and the main sanitising is done by the alcohol.
If you want to use the essential oils for their anti-viral or anti-bacterial properties then use them in a diffuser around the house. For a maximum of 3 hours a day, preferably 1 hour maximum at a time spaced out at intervals during the day, such as morning, noon and evening, leaving some time after your meals and burning the essential oils.
Which essential oils can I add?
If you have been following my blog for a while you will know that I am a great fan of using essential oils not so much for the scent but more for their properties. Reading the list of ingredients in some of the formulations I have seen circulating, they are similar to the ones I used in my home-made multipurpose cleaner (click here).
Whereas these lists are not comprehensive, and each essential oil has its own distinct properties, for the sake of making it easier, you can replace the oils above with some of the ones below if they are easier to get a hold of. I have quite a good stock of essential oils, but I must admit I have never tried Ravinstara (not to be confused with Ravensara, which differ both in smell and properties), it can easily be replaced with lavender and teatree oils.
Essential oils with anti-viral properties include: ravinstara, oregano, lavender, tea tree, patchouli, helichrysum, onion, sysop and honey myrtle.
Essential oils with anti-bacterial properties include: teatree, honey myrtle, pine scotch, chamomile, thyme, garlic and lemon myrtle.
Ingredients to make 250ml sanitiser
175ml alcohol (ethyl or isopropyl) MUST be a 99.9% concentration
Make up the rest with 75ml of pure aloe vera gel, or a combination of cold water and glycerin gel)
10 drops of pure essential oils such as teatree (or 5 drops each of 2 oils such as teatree and lavender)
Using gloves and a mask to protect you from inhaling the alcohol (which is not good for you!) as well as from burns, and making sure that you are well away from sources of heat, place the aloe vera or glycerine gel and then the alcohol in a bottle with pump or squeeze bottle with nozzle, then add the essential oils, and shake so that the oils and other ingredients mix well. Close tightly and use as needed.
If you are using pure aloe vera it might be worth keeping this mixture in the fridge when you are at home, to ensure it lasts for longer.
Luckily I had pure aloe vera gel at hand from last summer’s visit to an aloe vera farm (read about it here). The addition of aloe vera or glycerin gel helps to helps to prevent the skin from getting badly castigated by the continuous use of alcohol. If you don’t have any, you can carry the pure alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Remember to spray and rub well. Allow it to air dry. Then add some hand cream to prevent the hands from cracking.
What about wipes?
The same concept of the minimum 60% concentration of alcohol applies to wipes. It is as simple as taking some cotton wool, paper roll or tissue, imbibing it with the alcohol mixture above and wiping down the surfaces.
Ideally though, you will leave this to an expert or a professional. But if you are struggling to find it, then this is the way to go when you are out. Otherwise use the good old bar of soap to scrub up like your favourite TV doctors do.